In 1966 I was living the good life. I had a job that paid very well and had just married my sweetheart when I received a draft notice a month after returning from our honeymoon. We packed up our belongings, and at age 19 I was off for adventure and the Armyâ€™s all expense paid tour of Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, my wife went to live with her parents.
I entered the Army at Ft Lewis, Washington and after completing basic training, went to Ft Polk, Louisiana for Leadership School and then AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) at â€œTigerland,â€one the Armyâ€™s jungle warfare schools. Just prior to graduating from AIT I received word that one of my best friends had been killed on December 28th while on an operation with the 1st Cav. in Vietnam. I was beginning to feel a little uneasy about my adventure tour.
In February of 1967 I flew by commercial jet from Oakland, to Anchorage, then Yokota, Japan and finally arrived at the air base at Bien Hoa. Stepping From there I was shuttled in an open duece-and-a-half truck to the 25th Infantry Division Base Camp at Cu Chi. The heat was unforgiving and whenever we would come to a stop we were beseiged by the mamasans (women) and babysans (young girls) along the roadside who were selling trinkets and cold coke in the traditional glass bottles. The temptation for the coke was great, but we had been advised not to drink it for fear of ground up glass, which could tear up a manâ€™s intestines. Some ignored the advice and purchased the coke, while the rest of us looked with disbelief and suspicion.
When we arrived at Cu Chi, the base camp looked pretty bleak—everything was a dusty brown. There were no trees, just temporary wooden buildings, dirt roads and olive drab tents and equipment. The reddish brown dust clung to everything, giving the large base camp a bleak, monochromatic appearance. The Tropic Lightening Division had shipped over from Hawaii and aggressively engaged the enemy during its 6 years in Vietnam. The Division had 21 Medal of Honor winners while there. After being issued combat gear and a weapon I was placed in a training program with an aviation unit for a few days. It gave newcomers like myself, some familiarity with helicopters—â€œslicks, gunships, and medevac choppers.â€ In country we came to rely upon them to great extent.
My assignment brought me to the 2nd Bn, 14th Infantry, â€œGolden Dragons,â€ a battalion having a long history dating back to the Civil War campaigns. As an infantry unit we distinguished ourselves in Vietnam by receiving the Valorous Unit Citation, Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation and Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation. Incidentally, the same unit received another Valorous Unit Citation for its gallantry in rescuing the Army Rangers that were trapped in Mogadishu, Somalia. That operation was accurately portrayed in the movie â€œBlack Hawk Down.â€
For a short time I was assigned as an anti-tank crewmember (my specialty) on the jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifle. However, the 106s were used primarily for base camp perimeter defense, and it wasnâ€™t long before I started going out on sweep and destroy operations as a rifleman. We called it being a â€œgrunt.â€ Brand new grunts were affectionately referred to as FNGs, which stood for F***ing New Guys!
Then I became the platoon leaderâ€™s RTO and carried a 25 lb. Prc-10 radio on my back. On one of my early operations I was an M60 machine gunner on a scout jeep and saw the vehicle on front of me explode when it ran over a land mine, injuring the two guys in the truck. Some times we would hitch a ride with a mechanized unit and ride on the top of the APCs (armored personnel carriers), which was a little like riding an elephant. Most of the time I carried my ever-faithful M16 rifle and had no desire to ride inside one of the tracks.
My first major operation was Junction City, which was the largest operation during the war. Twenty-two battalions from various units participated. Every time we went out we encountered some action. Our area of operations included the Hobo Woods, the Boi Loi Woods, Iron Triangle, and the pineapple fields. The terrain varied from triple canopy jungle to rice paddies, hedgerows, streams and swamps. We frequently uncovered extensive underground tunnels and bunkers and on one occasion captured an extensive weapons cache. After a month or two our battalion moved to Tay Ninh, which was close to the Cambodian border and Nui Ba Dien (Black Virgin Mountain). We conducted our operations in War Zone C around Dau Tieng, the Michelin Rubber Plantation, and â€œunofficiallyâ€ crossed over into Cambodia on a fewÂ occasions.
In hindsight I have to believe that my guardian angel was looking out for me, or else I was extremely lucky, because I was not wounded although I came very close several times. Being on an operation for days or weeks at a time, we sometimes had to drink brown water from muddy streams. The heat could be intense and people suffered from heat strokes—especially when we ran out of water and walking with gear and ammo became an all out effort.
After Operation Manhattan I was transferred to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade as part of the Armyâ€™s Infusion Program. The Army didnâ€™t want all the seasoned veterans leaving the war zone at the same time so a system was developed for â€œinfusingâ€ the seasoned people into other units to stagger their rotations. The 199th was a separate Light Infantry Brigade built around four elite infantry units with a glorious past. The brigade motto was Light, Swift, and Accurate. I served with Echo Compay, 2nd Bn, 3rd Infantry â€œOld Guard.â€ The 3rd Infantry Regiment was the Armyâ€™s very first American Regiment constituted in 1784 and had quite a colorful history. It has the distinction of being the Official Honor Guard for the President, providing Tomb Guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, and performing the ceremonial functions for the nationâ€™s capitol.
Shortly after my arrival to Echo Company I was promoted to sergeant and as a squad leader took out ambush patrols in Gia Dinh and Long An Provinces. We were usually flown by huey into areas for company sized sweep and destroy missions by day and sent out on squad sized ambush patrols at dusk. Instead of operating out of a base camp, Echo Company occupied a small village named Long Duc in the Mekong Delta, using it as our home base of Operations. Our village was surrounded by rice paddies and streams. From there we would be picked up and inserted by chopper into areas of known activity, like the Rung Sat Zone, The Pineapple, Rach Kien, Can Giouc, and other areas in the Mekong Delta. Read about a Day in the Delta click here
Many of our operations were conducted jointly with the 33rd Bn, ARVN Rangers. At times we were transported by LCM (landing craft) down the Nha Be River and dropped off in the early hours of the morning so we could cordon and search a village. We operated in terrain that consisted of rice paddies, streams, nippa palm, mangrove swamps, sampans, small villages, pagodas and old French forts that dotted the landscape. Leaches, mosquitoes, flying red ants, snakes, spiders, rice paddy crabs, and large rats were in abundance and made life interesting. Most of us came down with jungle rot as a result of being in water all the time.
At the close of 1967 Echo Company moved out of Long Duc to an AO north of Saigon around Phouc Vinh to conduct search and destroy operations in areas where the terrain consisted of small hills, jungle and hard ground. During the Tet Offensive large concentrations of VC and NVA were infiltrating from the Ho Chi Minh trail with the intention of taking Saigon. Our Brigade was awarded the Valorous Unit Citation and Presidential Unit Citation for stopping the 274th and 275th VC Regiments dead in their tracks during the defense of Long Binh, Bien Hoa, and Saigon.
With only 3 days remaining in country, I was picked up by helicopter from a hilltop, leaving my friends, and saying some quick â€œgood-byes.â€ On February 17th I rotated back home to â€œthe world,â€ for a brief leave. Then my wife and I drove our VW Beetle to Ft Campbell, Kentucky where we lived off base in Clarksville, Tennessee. I was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment, a unit in the 6th Infantry Division. Most of us were Vietnam vets. We conducted field-training exercises in the Kentucky countryside and also trained extensively for riot control. Our unit was on-call to handle situations if they got out of control. The cities and university campuses throughout America were a hotbed of war protest and violence. During the Chicago riots, we anticipated that we would be called upon to suppress the protesters, but the situation was handled with National Guard or reserve units.
In August of â€™68 I was honorably discharged from the Army and drove back to Oregon in a new car (â€™68 Nova SS) to resume my life in the working world and get a university education. As I reflect back to those days in the testing ground of Vietnam, I realize that I learned some important lessons as a young man. I had the good fortune to have served with some great people. I will never forget them, nor will I forget all the people who supported us.
Company E 2nd BN 3rd Inf. US Army website http://www.the-old-guard.org/ECHONEW/
THE SHORT REPRIEVE
By Greg Stadler
In the month of December 1967, our village of Long Duc was mortared for the 3rd or 4th time while I was there. Shortly after that Echo Company moved out of the village to a new area of operations north of Saigon. After our move we had a couple days in Long Binh to regroup and recharge prior to being re-deployed to a new area of operations. Frankly, this was a real surprise and we couldnâ€™t believe that we were in an actual base camp after being in the paddies and swamps for months. During our short reprieve in Long Binh, two events stand out in my mind. One was the BBQ that took place near the airstrip. The other was an afternoon pass we received that allowed us to go into Bien Hoa.
PASS THE BBQ SAUCE
I hadnâ€™t spent any time at the BMB (Brigade Main Base) except for a brief stop as I passed through there to pick up orders when I was transferred to the Old Guard from the Golden Dragons. After arriving we were informed that there was a BBQ lunch available near battalion headquarters. This was a totally unexpected, but welcomed event. That particular day we were able to have steaks and beer, with corn on the cob, making it seem like an incredible luxury. As grunts we were not used to this kind of thing. Iâ€™m not sure who was orchestrating this little shindig, but if youâ€™ve been eating mostly C-rations for months on end, then the thought of steak and beer sounds pretty damned exciting. I made sure I was there.
The BBQ grills were 55-gallon drums that had been cut in half lengthwise and supported by waist height angle iron legs. A couple of these drums were arranged end-to- end and filled with charcoal with a steel grate placed on top of each drum. Sirloin steaks and hamburgers covered the top of the gratings. I chose a steak that looked good and watched with anticipation until it was a juicy medium rare. Just watching it made my taste buds go into a frenzy.
The day was hot, but we were able to have a good time and actually relax a bit. Pat Downey and I were at the BBQ having some ice cold cans of beer while making short order of the steak, potatoes, corn on the cob and other things that appealed to any red-blooded American male in the decade of the sixties. There were no concerns about cholesterol, calories or carcinogenic BBQ sauce.
We talked about home, our wives, sports, favorite cars, our neighborhood back home, and what we would do when we got back. Our remaining time in country was getting short, and as we sat there we shared our dreams and our joys. Pat and I were both Roman Catholic and we wore the Saint Christopher medal around our neck. As we drank our beer he told me a bit about Chicago and his passion for cars—especially stock cars. He was a stock car racer—the only one I had ever met. He even had a photo of his car. We both had an Irish-Catholic heritage and Pat had an easiness about him that made for a fun time. We told jokes, laughed and enjoyed a few hours of rare relaxation.
After we were finished with the meal, we wandered over to the nearby airfield and looked at the aircraft parked on the runway. There were some single engine surveillance aircraft used by forward air controllers, lots of hueys, and some jets. There was one very intriguing aircraft that got our immediate attention. Neither of us could identify the plane. It was long and looked like a rocket with swept triangular wings. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, nor have I seen one since. I just happened to have my pockets-sized Minolta slide camera with me, so I took a quick snapshot with 16 mm slide film. For some reason there were very few people around.
Pat and I took turns climbing in and out of the pilotâ€™s seat of a huey, while we took each otherâ€™s picture. I caught one of him as he opened the door of the huey and pointed his finger at me. Then I stood beside a single engine fixed- wing plane while he took another of shot of me. I guess it was like having you picture taken next to your favorite car. The huey was our vehicle. The Army used the huey for slicks (infantry troop transports), gunships (equipped with rockets and electric gattling guns), and medevac transports for the wounded. Those birds allowed us to deploy rapidly and often in a war that defined the era of the air mobile infantryman. They resupplied us with water, c-rations and ammunition when we were in remote locations. Without the medevac ships the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington DC would have undoubtedly been much longer.
I asked Pat what he was going to do when he returned to the States and he said, â€œrace stock cars, what else?â€ He loved it, which was evident when talking to him. I thought that one day Iâ€™d probably hear about him winning the big races. He talked about his excitement for full throttle acceleration in the stock car that he had built, and his pride for the trophies he had won. Pat took an interest in my tales of the â€™57 Chevy Bel Air 2 door hardtop that I had restored to pristine condition. I had the car painted a corvette color called Glen Green— a dark metallic green. As I recall, he was a Ford man and would give me a bad time about owning a General Motors product. There were two big camps for car lovers in those days— Ford and Chevy. His â€™56 Ford plainly identified him as a Ford loyalist. Our story telling and reminiscing went on for the remainder of the afternoon.
We both had wives at home and talked about the day when we could just spend time with them doing the things that made us happy. My new bride and I had been married one month when I was drafted in August of 1966. We had taken a honeymoon in Carmel, Monterey and the California coast and had just moved into an apartment when the official greetings came from Uncle Sam. Now we had made it to January 1968 and both of us were going to rotate home in a few weeks. In the previous month our village was mortared before we moved out. We had been mortared 3 or 4 times while we were there and on the last time a mortar round hit Patâ€™s hooch, causing it to burn to the ground. Maybe it was some kind of omen.
That afternoon was the last time Pat and I had an opportunity to talk much. We were on the move a lot after that. Sadly, he never got the opportunity to return to his wife Maryanne, whom he called Scooze, and his auto racing, but heâ€™ll always be a trophy winner in my mind.
BACK ALLEY COWBOYS
The next day we were informed that we were going to be allowed to get a pass to go into Bien Hoa for a time to explore the city and have a few hours of fun. We were issued the passes and walked out to the main gate, where taxi drivers in Lambrettas stopped to take GIs into the city. A small group of four or five of us hailed a taxi driver and piled onto his Lambretta. The vehicle was like a miniature truck with two bench seats in the rear. The driver did not want to take all of us since it would overload his small vehicle. But, we persuaded him to take us and gave him a bunch of piasters—money being the international language common to all.
We were off to Bien Hoa and after a few minutes, came to a long uphill grade. The guy at the wheel shifted down and the small engine made a high-pitched whine that continued as we slowly climbed the hill. The sound was somewhat like the tinny sound of a Honda 50 trail bike wound to the max in low gear. Wing-ding-ding-ding; wing-ding-ding-ding! Soon, the strain was too much for this poor little mini-truck and the engine blew its guts in a cloud of dark gray smoke! We pulled quickly over to the shoulder of the road as smoke continued to rise from the small engine. The driver started going nuts and cursed us in Vietnamese, making waving motions with his hands. â€œNumber 10, GIâ€ he said. â€œNumber-fucking-ten GI.â€ As we all bailed out of the back of the truck, he shouted at us, demanding money for repairs. We felt very little pity on him, but did give him some extra piasters. Then, we waved down another taxi, jumped in and drove away while waving to him as we laughed our fool heads off. The poor guy was still shaking his fist at us while we left him standing there.
We were dropped off somewhere on the main road as it entered the commercial part of the city. We walked along the side of the dusty road, being assaulted by all sorts of sights and smells. There were street venders everywhere. As we walked we were approached by young boys trying to sell everything from trinkets, to pornography, and even their sixteen year old sister. â€œ Hey, GI—you want number one boom-boom? Number one French girl! You come with me, GI. I show you number one short time!â€ Then he gave me a wide grin and tugged at my arm. This went on incessantly as we walked down the street. No sooner had we convinced one kid we werenâ€™t interested, than another one would appear and start all over with the same aggressive routine. These kids were street wise beyond their years— experienced street hustlers by the time they were7 or 8 years old.
We came to a place on our left that was a bar and decided to check it out. So we all went inside and found a round table large enough to seat us all. The waitress was a very beautiful petite woman. She had skin that was fair and radiant, large brown eyes that were expressive and enticing, long black eyelashes, and shiny black hair. She was wearing a silk gown that was gathered at her small waist that was no larger than a power lifterâ€™s bicep. It was quite a sight for a bunch of field grunts who had rarely seen anything better looking than a water buffalo.
Soon, we had our drinks and began to loosen up and tell jokes. A young lady in an elegant silk dress approached and sat down at the table with us. Soon she was the center of attention. After our drinks ran dry, we ordered another round and she asked one of us to buy her a Saigon Tea— another way to hustle GIs out of their paychecks. However, months in the bush tend to make a young man vulnerable to the clever wiles of the beautiful young ladies in silk. Many of them had delicate features, petite figures, and the sales skills that rivaled those of Tom Hopkins or Zig Ziglar.
After some time, we heard a ruckus going on and looked around the room. There was an ARVN soldier seated with a couple others a few feet away; he was so drunk he was cross-eyed and waving his head back and forth. He was shouting obscenities when suddenly he stood to his feet and started waving his 38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver at everyone. For a few seconds he pointed the pistol in my direction and I flashed momentarily on a morbid thought. I thought to myself, â€œit could end right here. I might be cut down by this drunken maniac here in this bar.â€ There wouldnâ€™t be much glory in that. The Army would send a letter home to my parents telling them of my courageous exploits in Bien Hoa bar. Then I wondered how the local newspaper would handle it. â€œLocal Portland boy survives combat, only to die in bar—friends toast departed comrade with Saigon Tea!â€
Everyone in the place froze for a moment, while the drunken ARVN soldierâ€™s friends finally persuaded him to put his gun away. That did it! We decided there must be a better place to get a drink and relax, so we moved on. We walked back out to the street and readjusted our eyes to the harsh light. All of us laughed and talked about the experience as we made our way deeper into the bowels of the city.
As we walked we passed more venders, encountered more hustlers, and absorbed it all as though it was a stroll through a carnival. We were relaxed, yet always aware of the unexpected. On our right we passed by a Catholic orphanage with dirty white stucco walls, a tile roof, and shuttered window openings. It seemed out of context, like a kindergarten in the midst of a lionâ€™s den.
Continuing further, we came to an area where the crowded sidewalks grew denser and the buildings were built close together. A couple of my friends stopped to look at trinkets and souvenirs that a street vender was selling from his cart. The cart had two bicycle wheels and a hinged glass top that he kept locked. His wares were displayed beneath the glass cover on the cart. Everything was up for barter, of course.
As my friends were haggling with the street vendor over some truly priceless souvenir, I stood by a few feet away amusing myself by looking at the action on the street. All at once a kid about 15 years old ran by me, bumping me off balance, while grabbing the new wrist- watch off my arm. I didnâ€™t see it coming. He was fast and ran like greased lighting down a narrow side alley. I followed in hot pusuit, with a vengeance in my eyes. I was sure I could catch him. Wrong! He suddenly disappeared in the shadows of the dingy alley.
I had run a couple hundred feet down the alley when I noticed an alcove on my right with an open doorway. I looked inside and saw an old man who was a tailor. He was standing at his sewing machine and looked up at me as I approached. I asked him in my rudimentary Vietnamese, if he had seen a young boy who stole my watch. He said, â€œcum buecâ€—he did not understand. I knew he was lying by the look in his eyes. I was getting nowhere with the old guy, so I walked back out into the alley, thinking I might see some sign of the young thief. When I got to the center of the alley, a crowd of young men, about my age, emerged from the shadows to my right.
These guys were what we commonly referred to as â€œcowboys.â€ Cowboys were draft dodgers, thieves, hoods and hustlers who made their living on the streets, the black market, and back alleys. They plied their illegal craft, taking advantage of the infusion of GI money into the Vietnamese economy. The leader of this group of thugs was short, but cocky and aggressive. He quickly approached me, demonstrating his bold leadership to his comrades. He came directly at me with a karate stance, then lunged forward with his left hand extended like a knife cutting the air, yelling â€œyeeaahh!â€ Without hesitating, I hit him with a left jab square to his nose. That sent him reeling backward several feet, taking the wind out of his sails. His friends caught him as he hurled to the ground. They looked at me with disbelief in their eyes. Then they straightened him up and pushed him back at me for a second attempt. This time he was more reluctant to strike out at me. I took advantage of his hesitation and hit him again. Then, some of his friends hit me across the shoulder with a big stick that looked like a 2 by 4, followed by a large brick that hit me in the side of the head. My adrenalin must have been running full tilt because I just seemed to shrug it off like swatting at an annoying fly.
At that point, I swung again hitting the second man in the head, putting him on the ground. By now I figured I was going to have to fight my way out through all of them, or look for an exit opportunity. I didnâ€™t want to dwell on the prospect of being beaten, robbed and left for dead in the alley. The rest of the group started to close in for the kill while I glanced over my shoulder quickly. I saw two more cowboys approaching quietly from my rear. They were still 30 feet behind me. Discretion seemed like the better part of valor, so I took a giant step back, while keeping my eyes on the group in front of me and my fists at the ready. Then suddenly I spun around and started hauling my buns down the narrow alley. When I got to where the two men were they started to move out of the way. I stuck a stiff right arm out, parallel with the ground, and caught one of them under the chin in the windpipe. He landed on his tail. His friend made no attempt to stop me as I continued my sprint from the alley to the main street.
I kept running till I arrived back at the street, breathing heavily. None of the cowboys bothered to follow me; they faded back into the shadows of the alley. I looked to my right and saw my friends still gathered there still talking with the street vender. Still breathing heavily, I walked up to them and said â€œso, where were you guys?â€ â€œWe wondered what happened to you, they said.â€ I couldnâ€™t believe it; they didnâ€™t seem very concerned. I said, â€œIâ€™m sure glad you guys were there when I needed you.â€ I was angry that I had lost my watch, but relief began to wash over me as I realized that I still had my life and my wallet. I had been suckered down the alley in an old ploy, so they could overpower me and take whatever money and valuables I might have. I wondered how many others had succumbed to this ploy.
While I stood there with my friends, I decided to purchase an old- fashioned folding straight razor from the vendor and stuffed it in my pants pocket for protection. I felt a little naked in the aftermath of my encounter without a weapon, and didnâ€™t want to be caught unprepared. We started walking down the road again and I related my story to my friends. They couldnâ€™t believe what had happened to me. I kept my hand close to the razor for the remainder of the day realizing that the combat zones in Vietnam were not clearly defined. Death could come around any corner at any time. It could be a small child carrying a grenade, or from the friendly village man, who donned his black pajamas and AK-47 at night using satchel charges to bring death upon the Americans.
TEA TIME IN BIEN HOA
By this time we were getting hungry and started asking if there were a good restaurant where we could get a meal. We were told about the American Club. We walked a few more blocks, then caught a Bien Hoa taxi—actually a bicycle powered rickshaw. We piled in two rickshaws and headed for the club while these small guys with sturdy legs hauled us on their bicycle-powered rickshaws. We did our best to create some rivalry and encouraged them to race each other.
At the American Club we were told we could get a message before dinner. Naturally this option sounded appealing, so we were given private rooms where we could shower, take a steam bath, and then get a message. That was quite an experience after being in the boonies. It is overwhelming to experience things that you have been deprived of for so long. Music, good food, drinks, and an opportunity to release tension set the stage for an unpredictable situation. There was little wonder why the MPs were patrolling the hot spots in the city.
Inside the club, we were directed to the private area on the lower level where there were showers, steam rooms, and private massage rooms attended by a masseuse. We started with a hot shower, which was in itself, a luxury. Then we sat in a steam room for several minutes until sufficiently cooked, and then back to the shower. After wrapping in a large white towel, we were each shown to a small private room with a massage table in the center of the space.
After climbing on the table and covering my lower extremities with the towel, I laid face down and awaited the grand finale. It would have been easier if the masseuse had been ugly, but she was quite attractive. All sense of time melted away and I just followed her instructions to roll over on my side or back when told to do so. I wondered what was going on in the other rooms and whether to trust this woman. Was she really a VC in disguise?
The massage finally ended and I wasnâ€™t even propositioned, which was a surprise. I wondered if I was the only one. I dressed and made my way upstairs after paying the masseuse. On the main level several of us gathered and went into the dining area for a real meal. I ordered shrimp and fried rice. Looking around the restaurant there were guys from other units—the Big Red One, 1st Cav, 173rd Airborne,25th Division, Americal, 9th Division, 5th Special Forces, Navy Seals and a few pilots. Compared to the other dives, this place had an air of civility, however tenuous that was.
All of us were pretty relaxed by this time and the jokes and stories started to flow. There was little mention of field operations unless it was to relate a funny incident. The food was delivered and then was devoured quickly.
We wandered from the restaurant into the bar area on the other end of the building. The lights were dim and there were round tables and an open area for dance. The windows were shuttered and there was a long mahogany bar on the opposite wall. Our group gathered at a couple tables and we were immediately approached by an attractive young lady who took our bar orders. It didnâ€™t take long to notice a few beautiful ladies in the silk form fitting dresses. They were working the room systematically.
These ladies were quite feminine and the sight of one of them sitting next to a grunt just in from the field was a study in contrasts. Some of them had a hard edge and crafty eyes that told a story of finely- honed business skills probably not learned in curio shops.
My friend Clark was sitting at the table across from me when suddenly a Madonna in silk sat beside him and smiled. He gave a nervous chuckle and magnetically fixed his eyes on hers. I sensed he was in trouble. This was not a situation that was covered in infantry training, but a dangerous trap nonetheless. Here were younf combat soldiers being led like lambs to the slaughter. Clark was a farm boy from Pennsylvania and treading in dangerous territory.
Within a few minutes he had enough drinks to get very loose and had purchased his lady companion several Saigon Teas at $4 or $5 each. Her tea cup was not much larger than a thimble and this gathering hardly resembled a sewing circle. This was serious entrepreneurship at its best. The American Club was a goldmine pandering to the longings and vulnerability of GIs halfway around the world from their homes.
I looked around the room and saw that this was a case study worthy of being written up in the Harvard Business Review. This place was a well-oiled machine. The customers were a steady stream of love-starved, homesick GIs with a proclivity for warm flesh and American booze.
Soon, Clark was in over his head; he burned through his money like kid in a candy shop. He was lovestruck, so he thought. In less than two hours he had gone through his entire paycheck. Now he was asking me for a loan. I gave him some money and told him we were leaving after one more drink. He was ready to mortgage his soul as Iâ€™m convinced that some customers had already done. It was a hard sell, but we were able to get Clark out of there before he lost his soul to the devil—whatever her name was.
Fortunately everyone was still in good humor as we stepped out into the street. We flagged down a couple rickshaws and raced back to the pickup point where deuce-and-a-half trucks were picking up GIs to go back to Brigade Main Base in Long Binh. It was dark now and the MPs were reinforcing curfew, telling soldiers to get out of Dodge. The outbound traffic was a steady stream of olive drab military vehicles, Vespas and Lambrettas. Horns were honking and the warm night air filled with the clamor of the servicemen feeling their oats. There was a mass exodus at curfew time. Everyone in our group jumped on an outbound truck. The party was over; it was time to get back to the war.
â€œThe Short Reprieveâ€
Author: Greg Stadler
Copyright October 1, 2003, Portland, Oregon, United States of America
Use of this material in whole or in part is illegal except in those instances
when prior permission has been sought and granted by the author
A personal experience: Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry,
199th Light Infantry Brigade (Separate)